What is a Holographic Will?
In case you are not familiar with a “holographic will,” this is not a document inspired by the movie Star Wars or another scientific source that appears and reappears when summoned.
In simplest terms, a holographic will is one that has been written and signed in the testator’s handwriting. For this type of will to be considered legal and valid, New Jersey law requires that certain elements must be present.
Requirements for a Valid Will in New Jersey
Laws defining wills tend to vary from state-to-state. New Jersey Statute Title 3B, Administration of Estates Decedents and Others, outlines requirements necessary to make any typed will valid.
- The testator must be at least 18 years of age.
- Legal Competence: The testator must be of sound mind and clearly understand the purpose of the document and the extent of their estate.
- With any typed will, two individuals must be present to witness the testator’s signature on the document.
However, a holographic or handwritten will is allowed one critical exception. Witnesses do not need to be present at the signing of the will, as long as the will is wholly composed and signed in the testator’s handwriting.
Validating a Valid Holographic or Handwritten Will
Holographic wills must be filed in the Superior Court, rather than Probate Court, where conventional wills are submitted.
Although handwritten wills can be perfectly valid in the State of New Jersey, the document must be proven to be written entirely in the decedent’s hand and identifiable as the individual’s handwriting. Determining these conditions often requires the involvement of handwriting experts and people familiar with the testator’s handwriting. In addition, while in theory a holographic will sounds nice, in reality legal fees and time spent in trying to get the will admitted far exceed the expense associated with admitting a traditional typed and witnessed will to probate.
Disagreements and Uncertainty Created by Holographic Wills
Often, disgruntled family members, disappointed beneficiaries, and even warring experts can lead to widespread and expensive legal problems. And, since handwriting analysis is not a precise science, 100% certainty sometimes leads to elevated contention over the decedent’s real intent. When these situations occur, the Superior Court is sometimes charged with determining a solution that will seldom satisfy all parties.
In some cases, when the validity of a holographic will is indeterminable, the Court may revert to an earlier will, if one exists, to decide how the estate should be distributed. In these instances, the legal fees will often deplete much or all of the estate, certainly not the outcome intended by the testator.
Alternatively, if no prior will should be available, the Court may need to resort to intestate succession. This interpretation directs the estate to pass automatically through a complicated, but predetermined order of succession starting with the spouse, then children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and so on.
Another problem with holographic wills written without professional legal advice is that the testator may unknowingly include specific provisions or procedural requirements that are difficult to understand, may not be lawful, or cannot be executed.
Advantages of a Traditional Will
Holographic wills created without legal advice often create confusion and result in unintended consequences and additional legal costs when executed. Consulting a qualified elder law attorney to draft and document your wishes into a solid traditional will is a much better solution. A formal will can be updated frequently and ensure that your final requests will be honored under any circumstances.
By creating a properly-conceived legal will with the guidance of a proven estate lawyer with experience in drafting wills and trusts will save your heirs and beneficiaries much time and stress.
Contact the Law Firm of Nicholas A. Giuditta III in Westfield NJ
While a handwritten holographic will is possibly better than nothing, help your
beneficiaries avoid the potential confusion that can arise from these documents.
Call the experienced Law Office of Nicholas Giuditta in Westfield, NJ, for a consultation to discuss the creation of a sound and legal will. He will advise you of any legal ramifications surrounding the distribution of your estate.
Or, visit the Law Office website to complete the Contact Our Firm secure form with your contact information and concerns, and we will promptly contact you.